Baptism

There are days that I feel swollen with with the past.  And I can’t move past it…can’t move on until I etch it out rhythmically, even if it needles and mutilates this aging decay–bloated, rigid, and inflamed. My skin is creased now, my sprinkle of freckles grown to thousands melded together, my teeth shifted, my laugh lines permanent.  My knees pop and creak, though my muscles are strong. And I just want to dip back in for a time.  Not just nostalgia, but watered truth that has been built around my feet and I walk on continuously.  I imagine pearls of rain stamping out ruinous fire, slipping over the scorched earth in winsome melody–listen…

Gentle,

putting out that raging blaze of doubt, weakness, uncertainty.  I need to recall that prestige and splendor that even the unassuming, lowborn can feel.

~

The shoes squeeze tight with the double knot of the laces.

Crystalline white puffs floating in the eery, pre-dawn air taken into the lungs with dragging gulps that split and hurt and suffocate, but I

keep pushing

and going and

don’t stop.

In that cinder block, run-down, carpeted gymnasium with the yellow-dim lights we ran suicides, fast feet, and burpees while holding back retching,

 sweat dripping, dripping,

as I’m heaving, heaving,

hands on my smooth knees.

Plank kicks and pushups until dirt is mixed into carpet burn wounds and ground into palms and bruises are ripening to purple, clotted blood.  All at the surface, raging to be heard and spilled and seen and grabbed and covered–but I push it out in smooth exhale, filling my lungs to burst and release.  Wash.  Coach’s voice calls sharply as a whip. You feel no pain! And there can be no tears, just fear or anger and tenacity that rage down low, ready to erupt.

There are no witnesses to view this agonizing preparation, except those beside me in the bowels of this fight.

Why do I love it?

It breathes in me still.

Muscles ache and harden, grip and spasm, and sweat seeps into that shifting ball like transporting memoirs through a company of finger tips, weeping into that floor and into that game. Those faces and voices that I can remember in a second. Hips sway and legs shuffle, and feet fly. No longer is there fear, but an adrenal surge, and a thrust of light like slow motion.  You know how to do this.  These bodies moving fluid the next day across a lacquered court with tread squeak and voices call signal to

pass, and hand, toe pivot, and quads–jump, slam.

We are of baptism, of belonging and attachment and struggle.  The heart in my chest still aches for it, so I run suicides, run stairs, and sweat to remember.

This body is now keenly felt — swimming magnetic volts that pulse through my bones and yet I fight to feel that old glory, because this is a fight of a different kind.   Oddly, or perhaps ironically, the mind is clearer and tougher than in those old days when my body was quick. Coach is still in my mind, standing with a stopwatch telling us to get up, to enter the collective conflict, this battle clash. Run to struggle, and push, and heave, and gulp, and close my eyes as the rain clouds open up and envelope me in ablution.  I hover from past to present, my heart firmly fixed, trodden and warm in both.

It is a nobility, an elite reverence. To belong to more than one place, and time, and people.  Forming in these separate bodies a sloppy, disheveled gathering that is pushing,  pulling, and yelling against one another before harmonizing, adjusting to reconcile, a fluid soul of One.  It was and is a sacred admission, a sacrament of adoption. And then we all had to lay aside and take up mission in order to take those liturgies to a future, to spouse, to children, to self.

That rain like like a

-baptism-

washing over the curves of my face, those Spirit-words, let there be rain, that soothe, cool, and  bring it back unpolluted, and God saw that it was good. Because we live washed in blood and water– alive, and created anew while our feet are still firmly fixed in the rot of the earth. Someday the earth and this body will be resurrected, whole.

 God speaking and awakening in my overrun, pillaged frame, bleached within and without– these inaudible sufferings, these triumphant joys, infused together.

 

The Milking Cows

Eugene and Beatrice Carlson owned a dairy farm in Amery, Wisconson, smack dab in the middle of cheese-state America near the Minnesota border.  To our family, they were Aunt Bea and Uncle Gene, my dad’s aunt and uncle.  To the little town of Amery, they were dairy farmers on family land, passed down from generation to generation.  The ebb and flow of American farm life is sheltered in those patches of dirt and acreage; that little place in the world remains as a soft, nostalgic flush of sunset in my memory.

When I first stepped foot on this vintage form of the rustic Midwest, I was too young to realize that it was dying out with slow and tender sadness.  My own father had traveled out to the farm in the 1970’s to help his Uncle Gene and his cousins bale hay in the sweltering, summer heat.  He piled our young mother, my brother, and I into the family car, driving from Michigan to Wisconsin in the mid-80’s to pay his Aunt and Uncle a visit when I was about 4 years old.  A smattering of yellowed, curled photographs give a glimpse into another lifetime of the farming industry.  There is little I can remember except that the farm had this magical, warm haze over it.

Framed in the clutches of my memory is the old, white barn against the sky, the amber-golden sun setting in the sultry twilight, casting a blonde-wheat glow across the dirt pathways and grassy barnyard.  I squint back into my mind’s eye, trying to bring it back into focus and the recollections are probably, admittedly, mixed with E.B White’s beautiful, nostalgic description of Fern, Wilbur, and a barnyard full of animals and of an America of our parent’s and grandparent’s childhoods.

It had a sense of history, of other-timeness.  When stepping into the farmhouse or the farmyard,  a simpleness covered over that little space of the earth.  I can feel the beat down dirt pathways with my bare feet, kicking up dust clouds, and hear the cows calling to one another in the distance.  Chippy paint on the doorposts, the large open kitchen with windows that looked over the barns.  I can remember my dad’s cousin, Larry, showing me how to quietly tiptoe into the covered calve’s shed and hand-feed sweet hay to the baby that they named after me.

There are pictures of my brother and I playing inside the corn-crib.  I vaguely remember walking into the milking barn and the noise being much more of a roar than I expected, cupping my hands over my ears.  Rows of dairy cows were swinging in motion next to one another, and I recall my Uncle Gene (or was it my dad?) telling my brother and I to watch our step behind the cows.  Another memory I have of that visit is riding out into the fields in the afternoon with my dad, brother, and Uncle Gene on a tractor.  I begged my dad to let me walk back to the farmhouse so I could go the bathroom, convincing him I knew the way.  Somehow I got stuck near the pen where the cows were let out and I couldn’t find an open gate.  No cows were in sight, and I had to go badly, so I climbed through the wooden fence and trucked through the manure-filled pen in my white Osh-Kosh overalls and lace-up sneakers.  Muffling alarm, Aunt Bea about had a heart  attack when I came into the farmhouse with my legs caked in casts of manure.  I can still remember standing at the bottom of the stairs near the door as she rushed down to strip me out of my clothes.

The summer before my 8th grade year, our parents took us out to the antique farm once again.  The house was the same as ever, with the smell of sizzling bacon on the stove, buttered biscuits in the oven, aged wallpapers and shag carpets throughout. Uncle Gene took my dad and brother and I to the local Winn-Dixie for milk–he had sold his dairy cows when his sons moved on.  My dad said that Gene always understood they did not want to inherit a dying business, but even at 13 I was heartbroken to see the farm as a ghost of what it once was.  Buying milk to drink on an old dairy farm was painful irony.  Gene and Bea lived on the farm, but the barn stood empty–actually, it was as if one day someone flicked the lights off, walked away, and simply never came back. The barn still had the cow’s harnesses hanging from the ceiling, oxidizing with rust and decay.  I distinctly remember the large, industrial ceiling fan was still hooked up and covered in cobwebs.  A small alarm clock was plugged into an outlet, sitting on the rafters near the doorpost.

It is these memories that flood into me when I am 17, speeding over the wavy hills of southwest Michigan back road in the summer of 1999.  The warm, thick, summer air pulsing through my windows, and I thrust my hand out to feel it push against my fingers.  The twilight sun piercing gold and white, stepping right down from heavens onto the open cornfields and mature trees.  I can remember breathing it in, my tiny gray hatchback stick-shift another remnant of the past.  For one odd reason or another, I always feel a belonging to the past–to the places and people that brought me into being.  A life built on other lives, and other dreams, and other journeys.  It is a payment, an indebtedness, to the past that always lives within my chest and my gut that I must write about to pay it back.  My father didn’t just tell me about his childhood: he took me there.  I take my children to mine.  And they will one day take their children to the places that they belong to.

A Snow Story

The one thing that can shut a Virginian town down, or any Southern town for that matter, is a good snow.  By good snow, I mean just an inch or two.  This past Friday afternoon the snow began as faint little flurries that my middle school students were running through, screaming and waving their arms in ecstacy, at the between-class break.  At 5 pm, the grocery store shelves were out of potatoes.  Bread and milk were dwindling.  The check-out lines were each 4 carts deep. Approximately fifteen hours later on Saturday, 8 inches had fallen and the roads were pure ice.  Church services were called off 24 hours in advance, and families everywhere traipsed through the snow for sledding and snowman building adventures.

The snow of my childhood was equally enchanting.  The snow clouds of southwest Michigan, however, would start their descent in November, usually weeks before Thanksgiving.  The magical powder would sprinkle like icicle glitter, off and on, throughout the weeks of December.  It was a rare year to not have accumulated snow on Christmas Day.  I can think of only 2 times in my first 20 years of life that we did not have snow.

Snowblowers would be filled with gas and started vigorously to heave through the drifts.  By the time driveways were cleared, the mountainous piles alongside the pavement were almost as tall as I was; the pivotal foundation for igloos and snow caves.  One highly essential tip for shoveling in Michigan: shovel or snow blow all the way through the driveway into the street.  Also, do not park in the street. I repeat: avoid street parking at all costs.  Those two mistakes will cause a wall of solid ice and snow chunks to block your cars and driveways in, when the city snowplows barrel aggressively through your quiet neighborhood.  Unless, of course, you enjoy trying to pick-ax a foot or more of solid ice chunks with a dull-bladed shovel.

January and February brought blizzards that children would pray would give them relief from their academic jailhouses.  To have school off in the mitten state, the snowfall had to be unusually deep, in access of two feet in less than 12 hours.  Or, an ice storm had to rage through, covering the snow in a skating rink and turning the trees into a magical, fairy-like, winter wonderland.  Those were my favorite–trying to lightly walk on the fragile layer of ice before falling through to the powder underneath.  Another guarantee to have school cancelled was if the windchill fell below zero degrees Fahrenheit.  Any of those three requirements, in combination or isolation, was a pretty good bet for a kid in the upper Midwest.

In high school, a snow day didn’t mean we were confined to our homes to wait out the thaw.  Everyone drives on the snow and ice in Michigan.  I can still vividly recall driving the speed limit on a stretch of D Ave in Cooper Township– 55 mph– in my tiny, rusty, stick-shift, gray hatchback packed with friends, and skidding over the snow in glee.  Teenagers live for driving in the seasonal, lake-effect weather. The reason for the cancel was mostly so that children didn’t have to wait at bus stops in frigid winds.  Double layers, snow pants, parkas, gloves, hats, and scarves would be thrown into cars, Thinsulate boots laced, and snowboards packed for a day of freedom at the slopes.

If school was cancelled it meant deep, fresh powder at the Bittersweet ski lodge.  While our faces had to fight the frigid temperatures and whipping wind that left our cheeks chapped and red as we rode the lifts, the blanket of snow was pillowy, forgiving, and worth the chill. On warm days, we shucked off our coats and hats and felt the wind flutter through our longsleeve t-shirts.  When temperatures hovered near the 40s, the snow was still abundant and the cold wasn’t painful.  I could fly down the hill in just my snow pants and gloves.

All winter long we had our fill of freezing fun. Heading to the ski slope after school one day (night skiing and boarding was my favorite), hooking sleds up to fourwheelers and careening dangerously through frozen cornfields the next. One year we strung Christmas lights down the sledding hill behind our house and the church youthgroup came over for night sledding. There are major perks to living right next to a city park with a sledding hill that closes its gates to the public at dusk.

The winter is so long, and cold, and seemingly endless that one gets used to the obstacles. We’d chink out a 2 by 2inch section of visibility in our windshields and just crank up the defroster. It was not unusual to see our headmaster shoveling the roof at school to keep the melt off from leaking inside. Snow was just absolutely everywhere, for 6 months straight. One fine April weekend my friends and I headed up for a few spring days at the Lake, and by that evening we were chucking snowballs at each other and drying our clothes out by the woodstove.

I had the experience of my first real Virginia snow in 2002, the year that my husband and I moved south for college.  The whole university shut down for 3 inches.  Meaning, classes were cancelled the night before the snow fell.  This was absolutely mind-boggling and unheard of for Michigan kids who waited on pins and needles at 7:45 a.m. for a snow day when we were younger.  Mid-morning, after sleeping in and lazily gulping coffee with cream, we decided to drive up to the mall and walk around.  Maybe browse the bookstore on our day off.  That is until we arrived and found out the mall was closed, due to inclement weather.  My boss, a pharmacist, called to make sure I was still going to make it into the pharmacy that evening for my shift.  I was confused.  Why would I call into work if I wasn’t sick?

Nowadays I bundle my toddler up and he waddles out to play in the new snow with his sisters.  His favorite thing to do is scoop it up in his mitten and eat it.   Although it snowed three nights ago, the temperatures stayed below 30 all weekend, and school was cancelled–at about 4 pm yesterday.  Snowplows down here always wait to come through until the snow has already fallen, leaving it pretty near impossible to clear the slick, packed ice by that point.  In another couple of weeks, snow will fall again, clearing grocery shelves and pausing daily life for a few days at least, to the delight of students and teachers everywhere.  The local news will have what I consider an endearing and quintessential report on how to attach chains to tires.

In fact, that reminds me of my years in college, when someone asked me when Michiganders put chains on their tires for the winter.  I replied that we….didn’t.  We didn’t even own chains for our tires.  Chains were for semi-trucks and tractor trailers traveling through Alaska and the frozen Canadian tundra. You know, extreme conditions. He just looked at me kind of stunned.  But didn’t it snow, like, a lot in Michigan?  I left him with this: all the kids in Michigan do donuts in the icy parking lots all winter long, no chains in sight.

Covenant

Adam had everything and still chose his Death, just like me.  Adam destined to face evil and now I am here facing my own demons, just the same.  I choose Death, but later Life comes.  How can it be that Life erupts in a thunderous shout out of utter destruction?  I’ve spent the better part of my life contemplating this.  Sometimes I wrap myself in it gratefully like a warm flicker flame burning wax to liquid.  At other times I throw my hands up in frustration because I can’t fathom it’s enormous depths and it makes my brain ache.  But it is always there and I always return to it.

God made covenant with Abraham, a forever commitment and unalterable bond.  A blood massacre contract etching out a promise unshattering: “I will always hold your descendents in my hand, and never let them go, no matter what it takes.  And I know what it will take. My people of faith I will transform their souls and take out wall stones around their hearts and put in soft humility, understanding, and love.”

That covenant He kept until rancid end: seeking out us.  People who turned on Him in unfaithful treason.  Leaving homeland for the wasteland to find and bring back those who were left broken by war and famine.  Giving perplexing but scandalous and wild hope. Dying in monstrous cruelty, horror, and ruinous betrayal in the wasteland after promising, “No one is greater than his master”.  These people He had created for glory and life and love, who instead chose death and sadness and utterly hopeless lives, He came to erase it all away from them and wipe tears from eyes and push out lies of torment.  Burn-searing our open, torn wounds shut that spew and spill our life source of blood….He closes and cauterizes and performs sawing-amputations and then offers His own blood, and let’s His own body be wracked by weapons and evils.   His hands, covering over deep, knifed wounds into the flesh and bright red liquid pours out onto His fingers and palms, stained.  All for Covenant He made with Abraham, the image He gave to Adam: these people He gave imprint to, and purpose, and value, a place in the story.  These humans He gave life, mind and soul.

I can’t escape it or get away from it….this triumphant thumbprint signature and Covenant stained with slaughter that forever binds me.  I need to be saved from this tragic wasteland of sweat, and muck, and graves.  I need my disease amputated.  I need to heal of scars and wounds.  I need redemption because the God who saves me from myself is the God I have screamed at to let me alone, and I’ve cried out…crucify Him.  Crucify His reality, be away from me!  A slaughter of my own hands and heart.  But this is the family I am born to.  This is the family we are given inheritance from.

I am born from immigrants.  Pilgrims who sailed the choppy and salty Atlantic one hundred years ago and pushed through the crowded throng at Ellis Island in threadbare clothing.  With a foreign tongue they trekked their way to the Midwest to scratch out a living.   I come from a man who abandoned his young family after his 24 year old wife died from childbirth and then left the four children for the orphanage and his second wife with three more and a pregnant belly and a meager dime to her name in the harsh Michigan winter of 1901.  I am from orphans who battled through abandonment, the Great War, and the Depression.  I am from a Swedish grandmother grown up in a children’s home in Chicago because her mother couldn’t care for her.  I am from a Grandfather who spoke Truth in firm gentleness.  I am from those who have fought in wars and fought starvation and fought death.  I am from a father who loves family, and history, and building, and creating, and classical music.  But I am ultimately from Covenant given freely, that wipes away tears and gives me children to fill with stories, and to fill with love, and to fill with Truth.

A massacre of blood running that covered over the permeating black stains.  Even if I ignore them, they still spread, and rise.  My fingers trace these rough edges, my skin remembering that there were sinister shames and evils here once, but the blood has covered over all of them until they are smooth and faded and gone.  This clotting liquid of heritage, a where-we-came-from genealogy.

Where we came from.

This man I am married to looks at me and I know that this is Covenant, too.  We signed ink to it years ago but it runs deeper than the legal document filed away for safekeeping.  It pulses in the core of my nerves and through me after agonizing and joyous years. A reality that is as real as his hand on my back and his face pressed to mine, but it is bigger…something much bigger than me that I am intertwined with.  I chose joyously and fully to say a breathless, “Yes” to this man and yet it came to me and covered over my heart before I could chose it.  The simple fact that we met for the first time one Michigan fall when we were young fifteen is nothing of my own doing or his doing.  Hearts and minds and souls that lock together in mysterious unity?  Was it merely this thing called chance?  How can such fathomless love and covenant come from chaos? It is not compatibility or personality, but a God who speaks and moves and writes that binds us.  After happiness and carefree youth and disillusioned and awoken niavate.  I walked in Covenant and chose Death instead, but yet I am still here because my Lord came down and redeemed what was dead and decayed in this epic war.  We are somehow not walking around mindlessly in bodies but alive.  And creating.  And knowing.  Like seeds growing to stalks, to thick root and buds, slowly blooming and waiting for this Spring, this Peace, that is to come.  But first we must battle.  Not because of rolling a die in chance, but because our story was written down in crimson ink.

When we were first married, I knew I was part of this covenant of belonging and owning, but my pride surged through me like a disease and I drank down poisonous arrogance.  Prodigal taking the inheritance and inventing the self.  There is this eerie Garden Lie that comes and tries to cover over the brilliance of flame flickering.  Surely you do not believe what God has said….  We had a little candle, a glow and glimmer of light and Truth, and it caught fire because we thought we could control it and master it ourselves.  It caught quick to the walls of our little house and burned it to the ground to mere dust.  Absolute massacre.  And God tenderly builds out of ashes and breaths in life is the way that story goes.  We must die before strongholds of life and legacy and genealogy can be built.

Who am I, that I should be a part of such a story?  Of such a covenant of love?  And all I can grasp is tears at the unqualified grace of it all.  Then I write it, because it is real.  I write it because it has happened, and is happening, to me.

What are tears?  And why do we cry at both those things that are good, and those things that are bad?   My husband tells me it is because it may be the only way our bodies can express the fragile grasp of reality while we are still on this side of the veil.  Both deep sadness, and extreme joy, expressed in tears that fly from ducts and whisper down eyelashes.  A sensitivity to, an understanding of, what is Real.  To let us know that there is more than ourselves.  God’s hand touching on us.

There were years when I thought that nothing could startle us and in those years I didn’t feel the sting of tears.  Those nights the summer breeze pushed through the window, warm and heavy, and my eyes would drift while I lay in his arms.  But despite our own wills, the bubble does break….and why?  Why? I would cry out.  When neither of us want it to?  When we both cry desperately for depth, and intimacy, and understanding?  Because we carry around the antithesis to these things we desire.  Evil and Good at war within us and all around us, pouring into our eyes and into our hearts.  And I always chose to side with Evil, and God comes in and slays it’s death-grip on my throat that is choking the life out of me.  THAT is Covenant.  “I will give them a heart of flesh, and take out their heart of stone.”  Saved from this sick and hopeless wasteland of souls.

I stood in front of a mirror, warm fingertips on glass creating five small circles of fog against the cool surface, and my eyes looked at the image reflected back at myself.  What is this person?  I listen to the beauty and the agony of music and both will make me cry, and make my heart beat, and wash over me in familiar intimacy, nostalgia, and pain.  Where does such a thing as beauty come from?  And my fingers move from glass to scars that are healing and they run over the softness there and I notice for the first time that they are healed, and I am breathing, and I am seeing, and I am standing, and I am alive.

Pretty Little Lullaby

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Pretty little baby, baby.  Pretty little baby planted deep.

Pretty little baby grows and stretches. Pretty little baby silent, sleeps.

Pretty little mama, baby.  Pretty little joy, down low inside.

Pretty little mama’s secret, safely.  Pretty, happy mama whisper smiles.

Pretty little carried baby.  Pretty buried baby hold on tight.

Pretty little baby, baby.  Tender little lullaby in the night.

Pretty little baby, baby.  My pretty little baby, all so new.

Pretty little baby, mama. Pretty little mama, daddy too.

Pretty little mama aching, throbbing.  Pretty little baby suffers through.

Pretty little baby torn from mama, pretty beating heart and body grew.

Pretty little baby sweetly losing.  Pretty little mama sick and cries.

Pretty little baby, baby.  Tiny little baby says goodbye.

_

Pretty little baby, baby.  Soft little baby, here then gone.

Never will we rock you in our arms, love.  Pretty little baby voice withdrawn.

Pretty little mama, baby.  Pretty little mama, daddy too.

Pretty little baby, baby. Haunted tears of heartache spill for you.

_

Pretty little daughters, daughters.  Pretty little daughters, hair so long.

Pretty little baby girls they were once.  Pretty little girls still sing this song:

Jesus, tender Shepherd hear us.

Bless Thy little lambs tonight. 

In the darkness be Thou near us.

Keep us safe ’til morning light.

Pretty little daughters, daughters.  Pretty little daughters so alive.

Pretty little baby girls are growing.  Pretty little miracles that thrive.

Pretty little hearts and minds and souls that pretty little mama, daddy love.

Pretty little family that was planted, and pretty little baby up above.

The Prodigal Inheritance

In the corner of eastern Tennessee, on the bordering edge of the Carolinas, there is a smoky, blue curl that rolls with twilight and it shouted Look! into my ears as it hovered the elevated mount the summer I was

pure seventeen.

Blunt, short, sunwashed tresses tousled, and voices of friendships whispered in the dark, smiling like warm.  Chilly nighttime air ruptured to a tiny wave of goosebumps and I opened my eyes to listen.

What?

Composing, constructing, erasing, and rebuilding….and words and language-art engineering; why does this thing always haunt me like a parasite, dwelling in me, demanding strain, hurdle, and to vault-ricochet toward it?  This propulsion kisses my skin, and tongue, and whisper-stroke skimming in my ear, and squeeze-locks around my muscle heart, a voice that is antithesis calm against my rigid, ruffled agitation.  Always since my childhood it says….keep writing it.   Speak aloud about Love, about Faithful, about True.  Speak aloud about the God who is there, who saves, who makes new.

Pen scribble

-fly,

pen, down-drop disgust,

walk away from it,

pen: goodbye.

  And no I don’t want to touch it and

bleed outside onto

pages anymore.  I flick it across the room away and choke-swallow vomit and watch that pen skid on dusty, creaky hardwood floors and land alone, because I am forgetting how this story starts and how it ends and it feels good to suppress it so it doesn’t convulse and relapse and lay me out.  With my own hands I reach up from pretty, painted pedicure to my heels through my legs to pelvis and into my gut and rip it out, ravaged with a jerk and bayonet hook, to be gone. Hot to the touch revolver in my hands, bang, bang, BANG, in roar-shouting burst succession.  Reload, cock, and unload again.  And I have blood on my hands, strewn over the pillow my head lays on to sleep.

A ghastly, first-degree sin.

~~

In eastern Tennessee are moist, wet rocks that graduate upward like stairs, rising out of the tumbling whitewater and some of them circle around and up in a spiral to the trees.  The sun bakes the rocky places dry until they fold out extended and jut over as a cliff hanging over the patch of calm, deep water before it turns turbulent.  More rocks litter the deep, wide, mountain-river floor bed, water crashing and swimming over them, a flurry flight.  Droplets hang in the air and sunlight bursts through and you can see it like a curtain hanging in the atmosphere, creating prisms of color over swimming bodies.

Wet hands on wet rock, palms slapping, gripping, and biceps flexing. Lifting torsos, feet joining, and leg muscles appearing until whole bodies emerge and water rolls and drips from them.  They jump up flexing and scatter the rock staircase, gripping hands, ducking under pine.  Soft needles stick to wet feet and they pat-pat pitter over the sunned cliff and soon hands lock together, clasped in tight and knuckles grip hard, and calves tighten and spring up in anticipation, feet run, and tips of toes push off the very last bit of rock.   Push hard and out as far as possible, screaming ecstasy through white teeth and soft pink throats, and fly.   Hands separate and loose to free.  Arms open up and twirl mid-air and feel the breeze flash through wet lycra and the curtain mist droplets spraying darkened, summer skin. Spinning and looking back and friends smiling and calling and living and life, star stretched floating, this fly-falling joy and gravity fastening and locking down.

Crash.

The water erupts and opens to encircle bodies again and again.  There is a Truth.  And my head submerges into crisp, cool depths and I feel for hands and kick hard up until my head explodes on the surface, hair wet against my shoulders and water dripping over eyelashes and lids and lips.  There is another Truth.  We usually look for hands to hold and security to find us when we are in the depths, but I’ve only ever found one Constant there securing me.  That is when I stop to listen.

What?

When I was ten sat in a wooden church pew and I prayed to God and told him I would do anything, anything, as long as He didn’t send me far away.

It is a call I’m trying to avoid kill.  Why am I the one who has to write it?  Why am I the one who has to stare and observe it and touch it, walk it and burn within it and tell it and scribble it and click my keyboard fierce?  All the good parts yes, but all the bad parts too?  This love and hate, this war in myself, of writing and Truth.

~~

I am almost 32 years old now and there is a man that knew my husband and I once; I fall into his wife’s arms first and then into his, smelling their shoulders as I sink into them.  And he tells us…..those were good years.  I force tears down and away as I nod my head because he sat in his office strewn with papers and soccer cleats and hockey sticks in 1997 and looked straight into my eyes and told me he was proud of me when I was sixteen.  Half my lifetime ago.  And he cried when my heart was broken-betrayed and he offered, “Tell me”.  And those were good years.  And sometimes we’ve been away so long, I forget that the people there

know us.

It is home, to be known.  And so–

Pen scribble,

-fly.

Click, sticky keyboard

-rush.

Breathe in, and out, those word thoughts, bittersweet and lyrical.

Wisdom is a muscle that needs to be built.  Calling is a thing that we seldom get right on the first try.  Truth is the thing we must learn to accept over and over again.

It has been years since then, the start, but I am a girl turned woman needing to grow up who has tried to erase these parts of her memory I’m telling. I’ve tried to rewrite it by forgiveness and then by forgetness and change it to never happened and turn it back in time and eradicate it down to nothing. And all our flaws that push to the outside I bury deep inside to dissolve them, flux and fuse to disintegrate.  But they explode back out of my small frame because I am not meant to hold them in captivity.  They are the antithesis to Theos, and need to be told.  Need to be redeemed and rescued.  The bad parts are part of the story, too.

Tell daughters and sons to be patient, pure of heart, and stand guard because it took more than a decade to reconcile. The heart crushed diversely and several, but somehow still beating, these boys intrigued with girl hearts and these girls looking for something that doesn’t exist yet but carries them away anyway.  And the parts where I plugged my ears to God and took to my own; those damning parts need to be told as well.  Because there is no such thing as neutrality.  Because “living in the moment” is often sinister code for apathy in my life.

There is evil outside of us, yes, but it is there inside all of us.  And we come to one another broken clay pieces trying to touch each other’s rough edges that cut deep on impact and we attempt to bandage them up and kiss them with our own brokenness to heal but it doesn’t work that simple.  How do we rid ourselves of this evil?  I am prodigal with an inheritance I’ve dashed to the rocks and burned and then laid in the manure  with the pigs in my rags and crawling back to the homeland I’ve cried out, Abba.

When I was fifteen I begged God to let me be.  It is a vivid memory:  standing in a downpour of rain in the dark, my soaked shirt sticking to my chest, my back, and my abdomen as my knuckles slam into the tree: bleeding.  Anger surfacing because I knew I could never get away.  He would always keep me in the palm of His hand.  I tried like a sledgehammer breaking through concrete to escape and I couldn’t.  Unbreakable covenant of love that won’t let go.

True love, we are told, will never disappoint or make us cry or cling, or beat away.  But it does; and it will.  Don’t believe those lies that say a man will not make you cry, a woman won’t make you bleed. Don’t believe those lies that say God won’t make you die in mountain rivers, with rocks at the deep parts, and submerge into the cool pools, and that you won’t crush inside to surrender to Him.  Don’t believe those lies that say love is easy, or that you won’t have to slay-fight deep down.  Love is the cruelest death.  It will hurt and burn and kill you.  Obliterate in poisonous slaughter and asphyxiate.  It will tear away the disease and the demons and hurts buried deep. It will hold you and peace-give you and intimacy surround you and never let you go and then push you to the surface to gulp in oxygen as your head breaks the surface.  Life risen out of death-ash.  Finally—the meaning, the interpretation, the purpose.  Life.

It is an ouch-no pleading, a touch searing, petition Stop. Begging.  Please, no more.  Please.

I stopped fighting Him who loved me to death and He ripped out my terror fears.  Dear God, please show me.  His scarred hands that reached out to mine and I stretched for them in the plunging depths.  Found.

I am pride-fool prodigal personified in real time on a mountain I didn’t create.  Inheriting a kingdom I don’t know how to run.  And the tragedy of it all was that the summer I was seventeen, I thought I knew everything.   I asked for my inheritance and ran: God, let me go.  I have my own life to invent.

Carry me.  Carry me from lakes and rivers of the Great Peninsulas down away south into mountains, and valleys, and peaks, and summits, and forests, and rocky depths to up again.  Down in hot, sweltering Dixie, to journey and come back again someday.  The rise and fall, the ebb and flow, the ecstasy summit and the despair pit.  Carry me back to home; pilgrim in lands that change me and turn me over and break me and burn me and turn me back toward. An immigrant that receives the gift of returning to the homeland.  Prodigal gained wisdom to handhold the given inheritance, with humbled frame low.

It doesn’t happen the way that you think.  It is harder, and grander, than that.

Love Aging

2013-07-27 09.16.34-1

He speaks with his hands, fingers spread and grasping the air with one palm, the other tucked under his elbow. And he paces and publishes oral language, trusting me with first draft pings and scatterings, a book of mind thoughts expelling loud-furious.  His eyes have a smiling, a flashing, inviting.  His brow furrows and I can taste the logos he passionately teaches.  My iris and pupil focus on details like his nail beds, etched white gold that circles round, his straight tooth, and his deep, dark facial hair against olive skin; animated axis revolving.  This anchor that surrounds his soul, his deep thrusting heart, I see it in him, locked in ballast security.  A stirring, a rousing of intoxicating thought adventures, winding.

It is a witness I’ve stood to since we were young.  This old soul teacher, a marrow-vitality, inviting me to join him in the aging forest with sunlight streaming through.  In it, fragile veins stretch outward to five corners, photosynthesis overdrive.  Reaching, reaching to heaven.  An intense, green shadow populates the slim, smooth arms that grow out of the trunks.  Layered, one over other, feather-fanned out in sprawling lime.  Transparent, midmorning Light transmits through our paper thin orbs.  It is a floating canopy made alive by a freshwater Breeze, a spirit that rustles our growing green like rippling silk, and then the leaves settle again, like a protective mother hen with tent-wings draped over the granules of cold sand around trunk bases.  This is my painted mind-picture; us.  The Light illuminates and gives Life to what the Planter put in place and motion, and the Breeze rustles.  And I entered into the range of trees of this forest with my love when we were still teenagers; young.

Growing up I used to go to the lake house on the peninsula every summer.  The Lake and surrounding forest is a captured replica of my childhood grown to adulthood, layers and pages and duplicates and drafts.  The blue expanse of ripple-waves, swell-stretching beyond the horizon, further than one can grasp with their squinting eyes, prevailing.  The tide, moving in and out like song during the day and leaving little rivulets on the lake floor.  A tiny ocean without salt.

It is a real place that permeates a tiny corner of the world, near the rock-caves my cousins and brother and I used to jump from into the clear, cool water, and also lives and moves in my memory.  A treasure place of comfort-clutched, swaying repose.  I can close my eyes and hear the lake lapping the sand shore littered with footprints and tiny, transparent, white shells, breezing through the cottage windows in summer twilight heat, smell the musty oak of the walls, lulling me to sleep under vintage floral sheets.  Because it is seared to my soul, cauterized.

It is aging, and fermenting, this bound together love we own together.

And I surge backward to him when we were young, sitting in class and scribbling on paper, prompted by teacher: he journals exposed thoughts in my peripheral vision, scrawling with lead and smudged eraser.  Sometimes I wish that my today self could go back in time, to him in the past.

One day my daughter asks her Daddy, solemnly, how chopping down with axes, how divorce, can happen.  Why, Daddy?  And he looks into her eyes, and talks calmly, always so calmly and articulately, smooth fluid like wind-whispers through leaves, explaining to baby green ears that have been planted and growing– explains to her pain and hiding and running.  And then he reveals this: that it can’t happen to her parents because vows braid together like tree roots deep, and they once bound a man and a woman forever to one another.  Only once and forever, to grow intertwined.  One cannot live without the other.  They have scars, and rivuleted gash-trama lacerations, visible on bark.  I know that wounds alone do not cut down, but heal.  They will drown together, burn together, die together if they must, to a fresh new life but not to expiration.  A rebirth, a saving rescue like Christ and his Church.  Like Hosea and his bride.  Melding and melting together to refined.  Soft, smooth gentle in the universal God’s hands.  Planted strong and planted deep.

I translate his words spoken out to her and it jump starts me again, pushing up to the surface and gulping oxygen and buoying.  I know I did not chose this on my own.  It came to me and owned me and took me inside, enveloped, and pulled him in too, and he and I will forever be two persons, but one existence.  A picture of the reality of our Lord.

And our children grow up high and strong beneath us, and our siblings grow round us, our parents and grandparents grow above us, harmonious unity, this forest.  And all of our trunks bear the mark of the Planter.

And a drum beat-pounds deep in my gut, up through the hollow of my ribcage and surge-charges my insides with a voltage, a stomp-pound marching, a battle-cry Gospel that rips out the disease and lays out slain the despair that latches to me black and malignant.  And it rises up and up, a shout and cry of war that bashes my devasted and dead insides apart on boulders before God’s hands refashion them back together in Life; hope-waves undulant.

I watch my grandmother’s broken heart bleed rivers at the passing on of her beloved; I know it comes for us too.  It will come all too soon.

I move to invent independent and his voice jerks the string, placing his hand over me and says, “No”.  I remind him to etch out his despair with the Truth of cross nails of the Savior and he wades out of the murky depths.  From shifting sand to solid rock and lifts my hand to beside himself.  Iron that sharpens iron.  I am not to run sideways out from him, but to latch hands and hearts and minds and souls and walk with him.  This William I am locked to, even his name means resolute protector.  This Erin he has been made to grow intertwined with, her name means exalted peace.  And when I suffer exposed he is angered and comes to fulfill the essence of a bulwark, and we are given Peace over and over and over that does not wear out.  Because our Savior secured it and now it lives and breathes in our lungs.

It keeps aging, but it doesn’t wear out, this love.  Like thin, web-roots that thicken and fatten and deepen to strong.  That weave to unbreakable.  A wild and comforting forest of sanctuary, commitment, rescue. Ransomed, and bought, and owned always.

2013-07-27 09.16.41-2